From Osprey Media Group

Firefighters urged to file claims with Workers Compensation

By Pete Fisher
Local News - Friday, April 29, 2005 @ 09:00

Firefighters will be monitoring their health for months, maybe years, after Monday’s fire at Horizon Plastics in Cobourg.

Thick black plumes of toxic smoke rose hundreds of feet in the air as more than 100 firefighters fought to control the blaze that burned out of control for hours.

Most of the firefighters wore breathing apparatus, but there simply weren’t enough to go around.

Firefighters who weren’t wearing the self-contained breathing apparatus stayed upwind of the fire, operating fire equipment, re-positioning vehicles or hoses.

On Wednesday firefighters sent their bunker gear to a company in Toronto to be decontaminated.

On Thursday, representatives from the Toronto and Hamilton fire departments — both are also members of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association — addressed firefighters who fought the Horizon blaze. Attendance at the session was mandatory for Cobourg firefighters.

Hamilton suffered a devastating fire in a plastics factory in 1997.

As a result, 400 firefighters filed documents with the Workers Compensation Board.

The City of Hamilton is paying for annual follow-up exams that will last throughout the firefighters’ careers.

OPFFA president Fred LeBlanc said it is believed one firefighter died as a result of the Hamilton fire and several others are still off work as a direct result of fighting the fire.

Cobourg Fire Captain Mark Diminie said the smoke and byproducts from the Hamilton fire were much more dangerous those in the Horizon fire, but Mr. LeBlanc cautions that, “any fire that involves plastics that can turn into toxic substances are very, very dangerous.”

Mr. LeBlanc predicted a number of firefighters from the fire in Cobourg will file claims with Workers Compensation and he encourages all firefighters who were at the blaze to do so.

By doing so, doctors can see any discrepancies during annual physical examinations.

Captain Diminie said firefighters and emergency personnel at the fire scene had exams at the Cobourg fire hall afterward and will have further physical examinations, and will be completing exposure reports.

The exposure reports will help to determine how much, if any, toxins firefighters were exposed too.

“It’s imperative we do document this and be checked out by a physician,” Captain Diminie said.

“Later on if the individual does show signs and symptoms at least we have a trail of where he was. A year or two down the road these are questions that the individuals won’t remember.”

It could be three months or more before any of the firefighters show symptoms of exposure to toxins.

“A lot of times doctors, not knowing the person was at a toxic fire, might send him home to treat him for the flu,” Captain Diminie said.

“Firefighters from across the province and around the world are finding out five, 10, 15 years later, their developing cancers, brain tumours that are claiming their lives.”